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A Re-centering: Pucón

After weeks of research and copious emails to various shipping brokers, we finally found an agent in Chile that could help us get LoJo back home. The wheels were in motion for an early February ship date to Oakland out of Valparaiso. I found great flights on frequent flier miles to California and booked them. So that’s it. We are heading home. The realization that the trip was coming to end leaves us a little sad but excited. The end definitely feels bitter sweet and we don't know what the future holds but it is time to move on.

So after weeks of uncertainty we had a plan for our U.S. reentry.

With a month left of the trip we weren’t really sure what to do. But one thing was certain - we needed to get out of our funk. It was bugging us. We’d been relying a little too long on our usual coping mechanism – eating crap and drinking too much. We needed a reset. We needed to re-enter ourselves. We wanted to feel healthy, happy, and fit before making the journey home. As John put it, “We needed to feel light again”. So we signed up for a yoga retreat at in the mountain town of Pucón in the Araucania region of Chile.

To get there we crossed our 25th and final border back into Chile, put LoJo on yet another boat (this ferry was only an hour and a half with absolutely beautiful scenery) and headed north. When we got to Pucón, it reminded us a lot of Lake Tahoe in California. An Ironman triathlon was in town and we spent the day wandering around the town watching the race. In fact, much of this part of Chile reminds us of California. We drove past road signs that with towns called San Rafael, Los Angeles, and San Clemente. The mountains are close to the ocean, good surfing is all along the coast, the wine country is huge, and there is skiing within a few hours drive of a major city…we could see why so many Californians split their time between here and home.

LoJo on another ferry from the border to Puerto Fuy.

A few days before the start of the retreat, we checked into a fancy hotel for our 25th wedding anniversary. I know lots of couples throw big parties for this milestone anniversary. We didn’t, of course. We got a hotel so we could shower. I’m not quite sure what’s more remarkable for us - surviving 25 years together, or 2 years together in a pick up truck. Regardless, we made it.

Anniversary dinner. We made it 25 years and 25,000 miles. I honestly don't know which is more remarkable.

While at the hotel, we did a full day hike in the Huerquehue National Park with amazing views of the volcano and lakes.

One of the most noteworthy features of Huerquehue National Park are its ancient Araucaria forests,

the tree commonly known as "monkey puzzle" tree. It is very slow growing and very tall at 30–40 m (100–130 ft) in height.

Because of the longevity of this species, it is described as a living fossil. It is also the national tree of Chile and also sacred to some members of the Mapuche tribe.

They are really amazing to see up close.

Next we headed to our yoga retreat. Avani Yoga Retreats is run by an American/Chilean couple, Fields and Mabel, on their property just outside of Pucón. We camped the night before in town and only then took a closer look at the agenda for the retreat. The previous week we received an email asking what our wetsuit size was, which we thought was a little strange since it was summer and didn’t think the lake would be THAT cold. Upon closer inspection of the website, we realized we had signed up for a river kayaking and yoga retreat. As in running the rapids in those little stubby boats on fast moving freezing cold glacier-fed water kind of kayaking. Oops.

Fields and Mabel's place. Their house is on the left and our little cabin on the river on the right.

It turned out to be amazing. We were there with only two other people – Steph, a teacher from Melbourne, and Maika from Frankfurt, who works for the German Soccer Federation. Both women were really fun to hang out with and since all of us were new to river kayaking, our time together was a bonding experience to say the least. We started our days with yoga that healed my back and my mind, then either hiked or took our kayaking lessons, ate delicious vegetarian meals, stayed off the booze, and spent time with Mabel. More on her later.

Our kayak lessons started with a few days on the lake to get familiar with the boats and learn how to self-rescue. I never fully learned the self rescue because I didn't want to go in. Too cold. I would lean over onto John's boat and sort half dunk myself, getting only my head underwater. The risk of ending up under water with a boat attached, flailing for the skirt strap...nope. I just decided I wasn't going to flip. Period.

John doing his lake maneuvers. He aint' afraid of no cold water.

Next day we hit the river. It was cold and raining the first few days, and when our driver pulled over on the side of the road for us to suit up I was wondering if all this nonsense was worth it. We hiked down underneath a bridge and got in our boats and bobbed in the swirling current. I have to say, it was not easy. We were in full wetsuits, booties, dry jackets, life vest, and helmets. The boats are pretty much attached to your waste so every movement tilts the boat precariously on its edge. The risk of tipping over is real. Like, REAL.

Side of the road suit up

Namaste, crazy people in rubber suits...

Our awesome guides, Daniel from Colorado and Fields from No. Virginia.

Maika, Me, and Steph.

Once we got in our boats, we could feel the fast moving water underneath us. Daniel and Fields, our guides, took us out into the flow of the water and it was on! We paddling hard across the water so as not to get swept downstream. We practiced steering ourselves in and out of eddy’s, where we were safe. Steph tipped over a few times and had to be rescued. Once she ended up so far in a tree, Daniel had to hack his way in to get her out. We tried not to, but the rest of us laughed so hysterically we could barely paddle. We laughed a lot at Steph’s expense, at her near-drowning episodes, and she was such a great sport through it all.

Paddling with the volcano in view

One of Steph's rescue stops. She never stopped shivering once she went in - it was cold, cold water.

We spent two full days maneuvering the rushing waters and then at the end of the week hit the rapids. John was ready but took the first run upside down, swimming the whole way after ejecting underwater from his boat. I ran it clinging to Daniel and was thankful I did. They were big! The last day we both rode the rapids - me only on level 2s and John running level 3s, this time right side up. A real fear of being trapped under water while blasting through rocks and ice-cold rapids was all the motivation I needed to stay right side up. But it was so exhilarating! We thoroughly enjoyed learning a totally new sport, being out in nature, and challenging ourselves.

Post rapid-running glow!

Outside of kayaking and yoga, much of our time at the retreat was spent with Mabel. She is from a large city on the coast of Chile and came to Pucón for the nature. We talked about how healing nature is, and that society can't flourish in a world where nature is destroyed. So she has to live close to nature. She and Fields have a 1-acre property set along a small river with a tiny cabin where John and I stayed. They have made a beautiful life for themselves there. Mabel has created an incredibly peaceful setting with ponds, gardens, Buddha statues, crystals, and healing plants. Mabel’s friends were around most of the time, and we often heard singing. We talked a lot with Mabel about positive energy, feeling open, and honoring the gifts of nature. On our first afternoon she took us on a hike in the pouring rain to a giant waterfall where we made a blessing for what we wanted to bring into our lives and what we wanted to leave. We blessed the water too, which until I met Mabel I didn’t know was important. There is evidence that it actually is (Masaru Emoto was a Japanese researcher who claimed that human consciousness has an effect on the molecular structure of water). I do think about water differently now. After 26 months of thinking about having enough water almost every day, we truly understand how precious it is - for everyone.

Our first evening we did a meditation session with Mabel on her crystal singing bowls. The bowls are used in sound and vibrational healing. Mabel often talked of the vibration we all put out into the world and how important it is to be conscious negative and positive energy. It took some easing into this way of thinking, this mindfulness-every-day kind of thing, but each day we felt more energized, positive, and centered. It was working.

First day of the retreat we came here in the pouring rain. We have seen a lot of waterfalls on this trip but this one was worth it.

Group visit to the Termas Geometricas - Very long drive but a beautiful spot.

We did another hike to a river of lava, with waterfalls and crystal clear pools. We had lunch by the water and Mabel brought one of her singing bowls. It was incredibly peaceful.

We also ate vegetarian, which John and I have been moving more and more toward while on the road. We feel better, we sleep better, and I think we have more energy. I haven’t eaten red meat for over 16 years but John doesn’t really either anymore. We have fish or chicken around once a week. We know it’s healthier not to eat meat. Maika told us she quit red meat years ago, but then was having trouble sleeping and a doctor told her to stop eating chicken because the hormones could be affecting her sleep patterns. Sure enough, she quit and her sleep returned to normal. So, no more conventional chicken or farmed fish. Mostly plants and only happy, hormone free food, consumed occasionally, seems to make the most sense for us (not to mention our planet, but that’s a different post).

Eating this way reminded me of a conversation we had back in Uruguay with Lucie, the owner of the ranch where we went horseback riding. She was part of a large group that bought the property together and all were initially vegetarian. They had communal meals, talked, played music, and planned out their future together on the land. After a few years, some of the group gradually started eating meat, and then a few more. Lucie told us it was then that the energy started to change. Once the meat was on the table people dove in, grabbing at the food. It was less peaceful, less respectful. After they finished they went off to sleep or lay around on their own. No one helped clean up anymore, they stopped playing music, and there was more arguing. She attributes the dynamic change of the group during meals to the change in diet, which I thought was really interesting. Food for thought, anyway.

Our time at Avani felt really healing. We needed to stay in Pucón after the retreat to get a package delivered, and Fields and Mabel offered up their cabin so we stayed a couple extra days. It felt like we were staying with friends. Which was also exactly what we needed that week.

Thanks for a great week you two!

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